Brazil's Rousseff raises 2012 growth data, causes stir

BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff said Brazil's economy grew significantly faster in 2012 than previously reported, a disclosure that could aid her reelection campaign next year but also raised some eyebrows because of its timing.

Rousseff told Spanish newspaper El PaĆ­s, in an interview published on Tuesday, that gross domestic product grew 1.5 percent last year, and not the 0.9 percent previously reported by the IBGE, Brazil's national statistics agency.

The revelation came in response to a journalist's question about slow growth during Rousseff's nearly three years in office. Brazil's economy grew 7.5 percent in 2010, the year she was elected, but has slowed sharply since then - which could be a liability as she plans to seek a second term next year.

"This week they decided to reevaluate GDP. And GDP last year, which was 0.9 percent, became 1.5 percent," said Rousseff, who is a trained economist.

"Now, this year we're going to grow a good deal more than 1.5 percent - we'll find out how much above," she added.

Her comments caused a minor stir in financial markets and on social media, in part because Brazilian law says the IBGE cannot inform government officials of economic data until the morning of its release.

The IBGE is scheduled to release third-quarter GDP data on December 3. Many economists expect that announcement to include a significant revision to the 2012 data because of a recent change in the IBGE's methodology.

"How did she have access to the information?" wrote one Twitter user, @tecomedina. Another, @caminho21, tweeted: "Why not (raise it) to 7 percent?"

A few hours after the interview was published, Rousseff's spokesman Thomas Traumann issued a statement to "clarify" that Rousseff was making an estimate "based on preliminary studies from the finance ministry."

A spokesperson for the IBGE said the statistics institute had not released any revised GDP data yet for 2012.

The IBGE, and Brazilian economic data generally, are widely viewed as reliable and of high integrity. Unlike neighboring countries such as Argentina, where political leaders often surprise reporters by announcing key data at public events, Brazil issues its major economic indicators at a set time and leaks are extremely rare.

However, Rousseff's left-leaning government endured scrutiny earlier this year when it resorted to accounting maneuvers to meet its main budget goal for 2012.

(Reporting by Alonso Soto and Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Writing by Brian Winter; Editing by Todd Benson and Chizu Nomiyama)